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Dancing Village: The Curse Begins (2024) Review

When it was released in 2022 Awi Suryadi’s KKN di Desa Penari became the highest grossing film in Indonesian history. Now the franchise is making history again as Dancing Village: The Curse Begins, Badarawuhi di Desa Penari, a standalone prequel directed by Kimo Stamboel (DreadOut, The Queen of Black Magic), becomes the first Indonesian film shot for IMAX.

In 1955 several young girls are dancing as though in a trance before falling down, apparently dead. Putri (Pipien Putri, Sebentar Saja, Breathe the Love) gives a strange bracelet to the one dancer still on her feet, her daughter Inggri (Princeza Leticia) and tells her to flee from the village and not look back. As she runs, Badarawuhi (Aulia Sarah, KKN di Desa Penari: Luwih Dowo, Luwih Medeni, Like and Share) the Goddess whom it belongs to appears to her telling her to return it. Inggri keeps running.

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In 1980 Inggri has been stricken by a strange illness. On the advice of a shaman her daughter Mila (Maudy Effrosina, Pemukiman Setan, Virgo and the Sparklings), her cousin, Yuda (Jourdy Pranata, Satan’s Slaves 2: Communion, One Night Stand) and his friend, Arya (Ardit Erwandha, Ghost Writer 2, Star Syndrome) set out to return the bracelet to the village in hopes of curing her.

Now, it really doesn’t matter where you live, having to journey to a remote village is usually not a good sign. Doubly so if there’s a link to your family’s past and/or a cursed object involved. Sharp-eyed viewers will notice the figure watching them from the trees as they walk to the village. Strange figures in seen in the night and most troubling of all Mila meets Raith (Claresta Taufan Kusumarina, Serigala Terakhir, Ronggeng Kematian) a villager whose mother has the same strange condition as her mother.

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Dancing Village runs just over two hours and for the first hour Stamboel moves things along at a deliberate, measured pace. He leans heavily into mood and atmosphere, creating a sense of unease and looming dread as the village’s oddities slowly start to be revealed, leading up to Badarawuhi making herself known to Mila in a pool in a scene that mixes implications of sapphic attraction and menace in equal measure. That’s a combination that reappears frequently throughout the film, especially once it ventures into her realm, and we see her interaction with the dancers, stroking them and telling them how loved and adored they are.

And those dancers may be the oddest thing about both Dancing Village: The Curse Begins and the entire KKN franchise. Because Badarawuhi doesn’t want to rule the world or even her corner of it, she just wants to add to her supernatural dance troupe, with the village offering up young women as potential members, destined to dance for all eternity. That also makes the title somewhat misleading, as the curse has already been in effect for as long as anyone can remember when the film starts.

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That doesn’t stop Stamboel and frequent cinematographer Patrick Tashadian along with writers Lele Laila and SimpleMan, both of whom have worked on previous KKN films, from delivering plenty of payoff in The Curse Begins’ second half into a frantic struggle for survival full of storms, snakes, possession and, of course, dancing. At times, it resembles an Indonesian folk horror hybrid of Suspiria and a Step Up film.

Perhaps due to this being such a mainstream film, Dancing Village: The Curse Begins has little in the way of gruesome and violent scenes compared to the director’s previous work. The one scene we do get is well done and effective, but Stamboel is relying much more on menace than violence, which may be a disappointment for some of his fans.

Lionsgate will release Dancing Village: The Curse Begins to theatres on April 26th.

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